A 24-year-old resident of Middletown, Conn., has been detained and identified as a “person of interest” in the murder of Yale University student Annie Le.
Most news outlets, including the New Haven Register and the New York Times, have identified the man as Raymond Clark, a Yale lab technician. Each includes a photo of him in police custody. Yet the New Haven Independent, a non-profit news site, has declined to name him. In a story posted late Monday afternoon, editor Paul Bass wrote:
As of Monday afternoon, police had no suspects in custody in the investigation of graduate student Annie Le’s grisly death, [New Haven Police] Chief James Lewis said.
He told the Independent that his cops have been busy interviewing “and reinterviewing” “lots of people.” The department will not reveal the names of interviewees or “persons of interest,” according to Lewis.
“We don’t want to destroy people’s reputations,” Lewis said.
But Lewis reversed himself once Clark was taken into custody. The New Haven Police Department named Clark in a press release shortly after Clark had been removed from his Middletown apartment. Following Lewis’ news conference Tuesday night, the Independent’s managing editor, Melissa Bailey, wrote:
“We’ve known where he was at all along,” Police Chief James Lewis said at a press conference late Tuesday night at police headquarters. He spoke before a throng of video cameras.
Police named the target of the search, calling him a “person of interest.”
In an accompanying video Bailey shot of Lewis speaking to the media, Clark’s name does not pass from the chief’s lips. In a follow-up posted shortly before midnight, Bailey added: “A prime suspect is a 24-year-old Yale lab tech who until this past week worked at 10 Amistad St. among other locations. His identity was confirmed by officials close to the probe. The Independent is withholding his name.”
There’s certainly a strong case to be made for not naming Clark. Unless he is charged, he is not a suspect in Le’s murder. The possibility exists that an innocent person will have had his reputation permanently smeared.
But though the Independent’s — well, independence — is admirable, it’s also futile. (Which is why I named Clark.) Still, by taking a principled stand, Bass may well earn the respect of his readers. Take, for instance, this comment to the Independent, at the bottom of this story, from “ASDF,” posted Tuesday evening:
This better be the person who did it, because his name is being published at other sites. Thank you for the good sense to not publish his name at this time — ever since the NHPD took the case over, the leaks have been coming out at a pretty fast pace.
I really don’t understand what there is to gain by releasing his name — if you don’t have enough evidence to arrest him, then you don’t have enough evidence to smear him in the media.
Finally, I wonder why Chief Lewis folded as quickly as he did. In less than a day, he went from vowing not to name anyone who hadn’t been charged with the murder to blasting out Clark’s name in a press release.
Maybe he believed his hand had been forced, since Clark’s name was circulating anyway. Maybe he just couldn’t resist. But it strikes me that his first instinct was the one he should have followed.
More: Bass responds.